Few games compete with the importance and tradition of the Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma — played at the Cotton Bowl, a neutral site halfway between the schools with a 50-50 stadium split, and surrounded by the Texas State Fair.
Texas junior running back Johnathan Gray understands the game’s magnitude.
“It means a lot,” Gray said. “It means the pride in Texas. It means tradition, family. Just everything. Like Case [McCoy] said last year: ‘This game makes players.’ I truly believe that. This is the time to step up. It’s a big game, a big rivalry, and just a great week of football.”
Gray grew up watching Texas battle Oklahoma. A star running back at Aledo, where he led the Bearcats to three straight state championships, Gray briefly considered playing for Oklahoma before deciding to stay in Texas. At 11 a.m. Saturday, he will take the field hoping to help deliver a statement win for the Longhorns.
“I like just going out there with my brothers and playing,” said Gray, who leads Texas with 301 rushing yards on 62 carries this season. “We have a chance to win a big game, and this could change our season around. We are really focused and ready to get out there.”
Gray has fought hard to return to the field after he tore his Achilles against West Virginia last season. He was leading Texas with 780 yards rushing with four touchdowns at the time and faced a long rehab process.
“It’s tough coming off an Achilles tear, and you have those days when it’s achy and doesn’t want to work and won’t move,” said Gray, who needed eight months to recover. “You have to fight through it.”
The Longhorns (2-3, 1-1 Big 12) have struggled on offense and are still adapting to coach Charlie Strong’s philosophy. Texas is scoring just 18.4 points a game, 114th in the nation.
“We have young guys on offense, and it’s new with the coaching staff,” Gray said. “We just have to get back in synch. As older guys, we have to get the younger guys ready to go and know it’s their time to step up and play. We are working out the kinks and working on putting people in places where they need to be. We are trying to execute plays and trying not to get stalled out on our drives.”
While scoring has been an issue, Gray appreciates Strong’s principles.
“He’s a great players’ coach,” Gray said. “I knew when he was coming in we were going to have somebody special, knowing that he could get the program turned around and knowing that he could get guys playing for him. He’s doing just that. It’s a new year for him, a process here for him. So we are doing our best to rally around him and play together.”